ETHIOPIAN PRELATES: MIKA’EL II (fl. early thirteenth century)

According to the History of the Patriarchs, during the pontificate of JOHN VI (1186-1216) and under the reign of the Ayyubid sultan Abu Bakr, also known as al-Malik al-‘Adil, who had assumed power in July 1199, an Ethiopian delegation was received in Cairo, requesting a new metropolitan to replace the one who had just died. His name is unknown, but he was the successor to Mika’el I. Since the arrival in Cairo of this delegation was also recorded by the Arab physician and writer ‘Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi, the date is known, the Islamic month of Shawwal A.H. 596/August A.D. 1200. Unable to find a monk suitable for this duty, John VI was obliged to designate a certain Kil (abbreviation of Mika’el) ibn al-Mulabbas, of the city of Fuwa.

Traveling with the Ethiopian delegation, Kl, now Abuna Mika’el II, came to Ethiopia, where he was received with great pomp and given large in order to meet his own needs and those of his entourage. However, five years later he was back in Cairo with neither retinue nor means. He told John VI that in Ethiopia he had run counter to the treacherous intrigues plotted by the queen, who had a brother named Jabrun. If one admits a scribal corruption of the Arabic text, the name may also be read as Khayrun or Hitrun. She had thus forced Mika’el to consecrate Jabrun as bishop, who then gradually usurped many prerogatives of the abun. Because Jabrun and his cohorts had dared to attack the dwellings of the metropolitan and make an attempt on his life, Mika’el had been forced to flee.

Unconvinced by this story, the patriarch dispatched to Ethiopia a named Musa, who had instructions to deliver a letter to the king and investigate the affair. One year later, accompanied by an Ethiopian delegation, Musa returned to Egypt with an answer from the king and the necessary information.

The true reason for Mika’el’s flight was that he had caused a dignitary of the Ethiopian to be beaten to death, a man who had been posted to guard the treasure of the archbishop and whom Mika’el had suspected of having stolen a bar of gold. The relatives of the dignitary had then attacked the residence of the metropolitan, who had fled in fear. As for Jabrun, he had died two months after Mika’el’s flight and therefore no longer posed a threat. Furthermore, the king of Ethiopia had sent gifts with the delegation for both the patriarch and the sultan, and requested a new metropolitan. In the absence of al-Malik al-‘Adil, the king’s letter was given to the regent, al-Malik’s son, al-Malik al-Kamil, who authorized the patriarch to carry out the Ethiopian request.

Thus, on Sunday, 9 Ramadan A.H. 606/A.D. 7 March 1210, Mika’el was removed from his duties as metropolitan and from his rank as bishop. At the same time, the patriarch consecrated in his place a monk from the Monastery of Saint Antony, Isaac (Arabic, Ishaq; Ethiopian, Yeshaq), who then left for Ethiopia with another monk, his brother, Yusif (Joseph), who had been assigned as coadjutor.

The History of the Patriarchs ends the episode on an important note. It says that the Ethiopian king was Lalibala, who in fact ruled from about 1190 to 1230, that his wife was named Masqal Kebra, and that this sovereign had two sons, one of whom was named Yabarak (this should be read as Yetbarak) and the other Abiab (i.e., La’ab or, more precisely, Na’akuto La’ab, who, according to tradition, was the nephew of Lalibala and occupied the throne after his uncle and before his cousin Yetbarak). It adds that the capital of this king was ‘Adafa (i.e., Adafa), located near the present city of Lalibala, and that the original country of the ruling Zagwe dynasty was called al-Bukna, corresponding to the district of Bugna, to the south of Lasta. These data from the Arabic text confirm the historical bases and importance of this episode.


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